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Google G1 review

I decided to try a Google G1. I have played with the iPhone, and Windows mobile extensively and wanted to know what it was like.

The iPhone is the king of multimedia but is not what I would call an open platform with no background apps, no interoperability a limited bluetooth stack etc. This is a device every kid wants and every mom can probably figure out how to use. The browser on the iPhone is hands down the best mobile browsing experience I’ve had to date. And has been since day one of the iPhone.

Windows mobile touch screen (professional) is abysmal. I gave up on it a long time ago. If you have to pull out a stylus or expect your vendors to put front ends to hide your pathetic user interface you should close your doors and send everyone home. And the sooner the better.

Windows mobile non touch screen (standard) works well and is the jack of all trades. It does nothing well and elegance is not a word that would come to mind. It is a geeks device. I love it but to say it’s getting long in the tooth would be an understatement.

Onto the G1. To start with I bought a used G1 on ebay. This was not a pleasant experience. I’ve bought many phones on ebay before. The G1 is complicated by the fact there is a Chinese knockoff the CECT which does not have 3G or WIFI etc. In addition there are lots of scammers on ebay to do with the G1. No idea why.

On my first try the seller changed the ad after I had won the bid (and added that the screen was cracked). After some Malay and a $12 donation to the seller’s benevolent fund (or maybe his retirement fund) I was able to get my cash back. Strangely enough I saved the listing after I won it so I know for sure he changed it after I won it.

After two tries I got my G1 and paid just under $200 to play. If you buy one used be sure and be careful and get all the accessories. HTC have used their goofy extUSB for the audio plug.

Out of the box I was impressed by the G1. Looks like and feels good. It is much slimmer than say an HTC Titan or Tilt. It does have that goofy chin which everyone goes on about. This chin by the way makes it hard to use cases not designed for it.

This first bit of the impression of the G1 would only be applicable if you do not buy the phone from the carrier. If you just accept the ROM they give you and never want to upgrade it then this section is irrelevant to you.

Upon first turn on you discover there are three assumptions:
1) you MUST have a Google account. And this will be used for your contacts, calendar and email
2) you MUST have a T-mobile SIMM (otherwise it will be more complicated)
3) you MUST activate your device (sync with google) over the cell network (that is a data plan)

Until all three of these are satisfied you can not do anything with the device. Nada. There are hacks to allow you to sync over WIFI but they are definitely complicated.

So to get things moving I needed to get past a network locked phone and then add an APN for Fido. I spent hours trying to find a unlock for it and eventually gave up. I am convinced it’s out there, but for $13 US on ebay how much time and I gonna waste (I spent over 2 hours looking).

After that I simply had to add the APN for Fido which was easily found on the internet. Then sync with Google and your on your way.

To be able to load new ROMs you will need to get the phone “rooted”. There are lots of guides that talk about rooting a phone my complication is I was trying to do it before activation. That made matters a little more complicated. Here’s my prod on how to effect that.

My comments below are on version RC33 of the firmware.

Once the OS is up and activated it is finally time to play. The device comes with a microSD slot that is SDHC compatible. There were no issues with an 8G card and I have no idea what the limit might be. I immediately through some music and started up the music player. After all I am replacing an iPhone. The music player is quite reasonably done. Upon inserting a microSD card it immediately looked for new music. It sorted them, supported the tags, organized the music and was generally reasonably slick. The iPod is truly king in this area. With loads of fluff, with cover flow and the like it is a beautifully elegant music player. The one on the G1 is absolutely fine and quite a bit better than Windows mobile. It did not support M4As. In spite of heavy use the music played smoothly with no interruptions.

Out of the box there is no movie player. I loaded a free ap called cinema and it works well supports, MP4. The program is quite well done and uses a swipe gesture to support ff/rw and touch for pause/resume. Quite elegant. It even remembers where you left off. This is miles ahead of Windows mobile but not quite as smooth as an iPod. The playback of an MP4 was flawless and smooth.

The picture player is crude with no swipe gesture support. It is adequate but nothing else. It compares fine with Windows mobile but is no where near an iPhone.

The unit as mentioned before uses HTC’s extUSB. This takes a miniUSB connect and extends it to add audio. I have the converters so generally I don’t mind it, but it is a pain in the ass and I would prefer a standard audio plug. The unit came with headphones and a converter which is great. The button on the headset allows play and pause of the built in music player but lacks volume control. Sounds from the headphones is quite acceptable.

The unit supports voice Dialing and it works ok with no training required

The built in dialer does not search through contacts like Windows mobile does so is more clumsy to dial. Searching through the contacts means sliding the keyboard out. All in all not a great experience. Favorites can easily be added and are pretty much a must.

Strangely enough there is no file explorer out of the box?

WIFI works well and is easy to setup.

The OS comes with an instant messenger that support AIM, Gtalk (and brings forward your settings from gmail) Windows live and Yahoo messenger. Impressive. This is no fring but quite good anyway. It supports both portrait and landscape.

There is an app called Messaging which it turns out to mean SMS/MMS. Not obvious but fine.

Android has embraced the Apple idea of a Marketplace. It is not as slick as Apple’s but excellent to easily find apps and install them. Payment is through PayPal. Aps will get updates when release but it is unclear where this includes apps bundled with the OS.

Andoid Marketplace
Search the Andoid marketplace

I have found lots of great apps for the iPhone and some of them are also available for Android. Netflix, and shazam are both available but I couldn’t find facebook, or yelp. Shop savvy is there and is a very cool ap allowing you to take a picture of a bar code with the camera and then do a search for the product in your area via location aware. I did not get a chance to play with it …

The web browser is webkits which is the same browser as the iPhone. It works well but is not as smooth as the iPhone. There is no multi touch support so zooming in and out is more clumsy than the iPhone but MILES ahead of Windows mobile.

The GPS seems to work well. I was able to get a solid lock reasonably quickly inside a street car which on an iPhone is virtually impossible. The device also includes a digital compass which seemed to work much better than on the iPhone and was not in need of constant recalibration.

Bluetooth on Andoid 1.5 has only been partially implemented. No support for A2Dp (streaming bluetooth for music) and no support for bluetooth GPS so you will have to make due. The lack of A2DP is quite disappointing and a serious oversight.

Email is custom for this device and is the only solution that shows emails in the same chain under one email as gmail does on the web. It supports starring and the like. I’m not sure if it is support push email or not but it worked well and the HTML support was as good as it does on the iPhone.

Synchronization with the devices calendar and contacts is via Google only (from what I can gather). This is limiting. In other versions of the OS exchange support is built in which would be another option. In Andoid 2.0 it is rumored to support multiple exchange accounts which would the first device to do that. Even the iPhone can not accomplish that task! Google offer a program to sync your calendar from Outlook to Gmail but not contacts. Its is free and you can setup a syncronization schedule as well. Seems to work fine. Google Outlook calendar Sync utility

For now the best i have found for Sync’ing your contacts to to export a CSV out of Outlook and then manually import into Google. You loose your contact’s photos.

The battery cover on the device is a little poorly designed. You need to open the keyboard and then use your fingernail to remove the cover. It does not have the best feel as you take it off but is quite firmly in place. Under the cover is the battery and the SIM card. The good thing is the battery is changeable by the customer and you can carry a spare one. They are small enough to easily carry one. And that might not be a bad choice. I was able to bring the battery down to 57% in 1 hour by watching a 1/2 hour movie, surfing the web using GPS etc. The battery is unique to the G1 which is unfortunate because I have spare ones for the S630. There are extended capacity batteries that replace the normal back cover with one that has a bulge in it.

The ROM on the device can be upgraded and there are lots of different ROMs to play with. Caution must be used when doing this as you can permanently brick your phone (I did it). It turns out there are three separate areas of the ROM that need to be updated. There is the radio rom, a bootloader (SPL) and the OS itself. They need to be in sync. The error I made was to not upgrade the radio ROM before the SPL leading to a bricked phone. The SPL is always problematic. If the radio or the OS go badly your still ok, but if the SPL goes bad your bricked. So beware. Don’t believe any of the hype about this being an unbrickable phone there are many folks in my predicament. Some ROMs bundle differently and include the required parts to insure that everything is sync and bricking is much less likely. The one I bricked my on was the Haykuro ROM. And like I said many folks have done the same on this ROM (and others). A call to HTC informed me that HTC do not have a way out of this shy of returning the phone for repair. They claim it will take a motherboard replacement and needless to say this is worth more than the phone. Some cell phone repair places say they can fix it, I guess I will see.

The devil is always in the details and this phone was no exception and ended up biting me in the but. I bought a Tmobile device. Turns out the frequencies on the phone are: GSM850, GSM900, GSM1800, GSM1900, UMTS1700, UMTS2100. The iPhone on the other hand supports GSM850, GSM900, GSM1800, GSM1900, UMTS850, UMTS1900, UMTS2100.

Notice the addtional frequencies in the 3G data side? Guess what, they are the ones needed by Rogers. So EDGE was the best I could do. I managed an earth shattering 163kb/S on a test. Yippie. After the fact I found:
“On June 2, 2009 it was released through Rogers Wireless in Canada as the HTC Dream. This variant, DREA210, supports the UMTS 850 / 1900 bands and HSDPA up to 7.2Mbps for use on Rogers’ 3G network” from Wikkipedia .

So it looks like they brought a special version out for Rogers. Thanks Ted.

That’s it for now, until I get a new device or my bricked device back repaired …

Update: I took my phone over to InTouch Wireless. All the reading I did said that in cases like mine the only recourse was to replace the motherboard on the phone. The cost was going to be $50 for them to unbrick it, and only $10 if they could not fix it. Seems like a small gamble. So I gave it a try. They called me back and said sure enough the motherboard needed to be replaced $100. So I did it. The phone came back good as new with a Rogers (rather than T-Mobile) motherboard. The radio also now did Rogers 3G frequencies to I’ve ended up better than expected for a very reasonable price!

t-mobile_g1

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November 2, 2009 - Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews, Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. […] When I bought my iPhone my number two device was an Andoid G1. I decided to satisfy my curiosity and bought one. Stop on by and read all about my woes https://johngalea.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/google-g1-review/ […]

    Pingback by Android G1 review « John Galea's Blog | November 2, 2009 | Reply

  2. UMTS1900?! Who uses that?! 😛

    Comment by David | November 3, 2009 | Reply


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